Here Is Why “Team Building” Has Nothing to Do with Building a Team – And What to Do Instead

Several companies offer their employees something labeled as “team building activities”, just look at almost any job advertisement or any company’s social media feeds. These activities can vary from meals to happy hours to sports activities where the team spends time together outside of the workplace. After the event, the company posts pictures on their social media accounts to show others how much fun their employees have together, in hopes of attracting potential new talent.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with offering your team a break from the routine and going out for a lunch together, spending an evening in a bowling alley, or even taking everyone to a yearly company retreat. In fact, when planned and executed right, these activities can allow your team to interact in a more informal setting, to get to know each other better, and consequently, to work together better. And if your team is happy working together, you absolutely should use it for your employer branding efforts.

However, never in a million years should you believe that these activities are actually going to build you a great team. They can make the team that you have already built stronger but they are not going to fix any fundamental issues or magically make everyone work together seamlessly. Imagine that there is a bully in your team. Or that your employees feel that they are not getting support from their supervisor. Or maybe they are frustrated because their hard work is not being recognized by the organization. As you might be guessing, an occasional team building activity is going to do very little (or actually, absolutely nothing) to fix any of these issues. Organizing team building activities when there are crucial problems to be solved in the team can feel superficial to your employees and they might only attend out of a sense of obligation, if they attend at all.

So should you stop spending your budget on team building activities? No, we don’t think so. Time spent together outside the office can increase the sense of belonging and commitment to the organization and make the team work better together. However, before you start organizing these activities, you need to ensure that there are no underlying issues in the team that could shatter your efforts. Here are six things that you as a manager should start doing to build a strong team. Anyone can implement them and they don’t cost you a dime:

1) Act as a Coach to Your Team

Allow your team to take the ownership of their own areas of responsibilities. Micromanaging doesn’t motivate any hard-working individual. However, at the same time, make sure that your team knows that they can always come to you with an issue and that they will have your full support. Acting more like a coach and less like a manager that supervises every detail or even worse, is emotionally absent, will help motivate your team and increases each team member’s feeling that the work they are doing is important. When they feel that their work has a purpose, they will also feel like a crucial member of the team.

2) Address Any Issues as They Arise

Did a team member suddenly start underperforming? Are two team members constantly having an argument? Does someone on the team seem to be avoiding another team member? These can be signs of underlying issues such as workplace bullying or personal issues in a team member’s life that you should address as soon as you notice them. Sit down with the team member(s) in question and take the time to get to get to the root of the problem. Make sure that you also set up a plan to solve the issue and follow up on it.

3) Recognize Hard Work

When someone on your team does good work, show them that you appreciate their dedication. It’s doesn’t always have to be about a salary raise or a bonus, you will be surprised about how far a simple “thank you!” goes. When you have the opportunity to promote someone, make sure that you do it based on their actual results. Giving promotions to the wrong people will not only demotivate your hardest-working employees (who, by the way, rarely are the loudest ones about their own accomplishments). Unearned promotions can also create issues among the team members.

4) Provide Feedback

Give your team constant feedback. While you may have regular employee reviews, don’t wait until the review date to give your employees feedback. In addition to saying “thanks” when a project was completed well, give your employees feedback on their areas of improvement and help them to get better. Remember, you hired them so you are responsible for providing them with the tools and support that need in order to succeed. And while no employee is perfect, the best ones will have the drive to become better every day.

5) Lead by Example

Keep in mind that as a manager, you are a reference to your employees on how to act and work with others. If you don’t go the extra mile, don’t expect your employees to do it either. If you are constantly visibly stressed and complaining, it will affect your employees’ mood, too. Instead, act like you would like your team members to act, and treat your colleagues the way you would want your team to treat each other.

6) Allow Having Fun at the Workplace

Team building activities often have the intention of having fun together. And an escape room or a happy hour surely can be fun for a healthy, well-built team. But why leave the fun only to the occasional team building events? Your employees spend at least 40 hours/week together at the office so that is where they should be having fun together. And I am not talking about the fancy pool table or the newest Xbox kind of fun. I am talking about the kind of fun where your company culture encourages an environment where there is always room for a laugh and every one of your employees feels included.

Building a great team is about doing the small daily things right rather than occasionally spending money to “do team building”. Team building activities can strengthen the team you have already built, but they will not replace the day-to-day work that you need to do to build a great team. Do you have any other best practices for building a strong team? Tell us in the comment section below!

Pascal Swier

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